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Are MMOs a Dead (PvP) Esport?

WindandRain 2022-02-02 03:43:19

I was a teenager in High School watching my character apply a poison to her two daggers from my dad’s high back computer chair. At least, I think it had ahigh back, but maybe I was just not very large at the time. My partner was a man in his twenties who had a steady paying job. He became worse at the game as he got more drunk. When it got late enough, the sound of glass shattering came through his microphone as he threw whatever receptacle was previously around his whiskey against the wall and it turned from a cup into dangerous shards. Somehow, this grown, drinking man who spent his free time playing an MMORPG with a teenage me was not a sexual predator. He was actually a really cool dude.

In World of Warcraft, as in life, your progression in either of its two primary end game modes was marked by obtaining higher level gear. In PvE, or raiding, the game mode that almost defines the genre, the pieces dropped from the bosses you kill. Back then, it was people who decided how to distribute the spoils; this led to no small amount of hilarious internet nerd fighting and often cry-typing.

I just want to say, I got kicked out of a World of Warcraft raiding group once because I rolled for the same trinket that the raid leader wanted and won. They didn’t even tell me, they just didn’t invite me to the group. No one even wanted to look me in my naked eye balls and tell me, “yeah, you’re gone”, because then I’d ask why, and they’d have to admit their glorious leader had pulled a trick most commonly associated with totalitarian dictators in foreign countries. I still got the trinket, though, so suck my ass, Sharon.

In PvP, you could get basic gear through battlegrounds which were unrated and had no matchmaking rating, but in order to go higher than that you had to increase your rating in arena. There were no rated battlegrounds at the time. It was Wrath of the Lich King, by the way.

At the time, I had a philosophical problem with this, because it wasn’t an even playing field. People who were higher rated already had an unfair advantage over any up and comers. As game design, and with the gift of retrospect, it is actually a stroke of evil genius. Not only does PvP get easier as you get better at it, you also get better gear, meaning it gets easier due to skill and gear at the same time. This had the effect of a high reward PvP system, and if you hit 1800 you could purchase weapons—the most impactful upgrade—from the vendor. Maybe the end didn’t justify the means, but I still have those daggers on my inactive World of Warcraft account to this day. It was my first time ever not being total doggy doo doo at a video game in my life. I was sixteen years old.

Image from Wowwiki

The problems of this system have been well documented and thoroughly complained about throughout the years. For starters, how do you balance PvE and PvP gear in a game like that? Blizzard has taken so many whacks at it that I couldn’t possibly write them all without boring any of you, and myself, to death. The short version though is that in Wrath of the Lich King, it was optimal to mix a few highly powerful PvE pieces in with your PvP pieces. This resulted in the predictably frustrating situation of my particularly skilled self, who did not raid, getting shit stomped by some noob who just happened to be more capable of not getting kicked out of raiding guilds than me. One time I got one shot by a shaman through Cloak of Shadows. He was carrying a Dislodged Foreign Object. I don’t remember what that means, just that it was incredibly unlikely and highly frustrating, and I quit the game shortly thereafter. Not just because of that, but also because a game called League of Legends was about to ruin esports forever and I wanted to play it.
Surprisingly, or maybe not surprisingly, this was the very same era where World of Warcraft as an esport would be more successful than any MMORPG ever would be again. It was rough going in those days. You think it’s hard to tell what’s going on in a MOBA if you don’t play it? It was hard to tell what was going on in an Arena match even if you did, and those only had two teams of three people. Still, I remember tuning in for every tournament. I buried this all the way down here so you would know I am being sincere when I say Reckful was my favorite player, and I have never liked a player of any game since then as much as I like Reckful even today.
Nowadays, the field of MMORPG esports is much quieter. Guild Wars 2 was supposed to be the new thing: a game where the PvP was all skill and the game was actually balanced around it. It was okay, but I can’t say it ever lived up to a world where I could be playing Dota 2 instead. MMOs needed an esports viable breakout hit, and what we got was FF14, a game where the queues for PvP are so long that I can’t talk about it because I have never even hit another player in that game.
It gets worse than that. Even in League and Dota 2, esports is more of a money drain fileable under advertising expenses than a profitable business decision, and those games are actually about PvP. Why would any MMO, a genre mostly known for its single and group player PvE content, ever venture to spend money on advertising to the esports community? What would an MMO even have to look like to be watchable in a post-covid era?
I don’t know. I have ideas, of course, but everyone has ideas. Ideas are cheap. What’s expensive is work, and I think it’s safe to say the odds are very low anyone is going to put the work into reviving MMO esports to the state of a premier competitive genre. But you never know until it happens.

If you enjoyed this piece, follow the author on Twitter at @JSMcQueen.

Cover image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

 

 

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